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National Lawyers Guild. Massachusetts Chapter, Inc. records

 Collection
Identifier: M197

Scope and Content Note

The bulk of the collection are subject files that detail the Massachusetts Chapter's research, organizing and work around national and local issues, notably NLGMC's work in support of housing rights, various Central American countries in the 1980s, its protest of Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork's nominations to the Supreme Court, and Charles Fried's nomination to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Also documented is the Chapter's support of Law School chapters at Boston University, Boston College, Harvard Law School New England School of Law, Suffolk University and Northeastern University. Also included are issues from 1970 to 2006 of the Chapter's newsletter, Mass Dissent. It is unclear if this is a complete set. Files related to two legal services projects, the referral service and Servathon, which worked to provide legal services to local Boston communities and inmates, are documented. Because of celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the NLG in 1989, the chapter did extensive research into the Guilds history, collecting numerous articles documenting NLGMC activities from the 1930s to the 1980s. Programs, correspondence and photos for the Annual Testimonial Dinners held in honor of Howard Zinn, Mel King, Margaret Randall and Geraldine Hines amongst others can be found in the collection as well. The collection also contains administrative records such as membership lists, dues records, and financial records. Records from the Executive Committee are documented, however there is a gap in the records from 1990 to 1999. Files relating to issues in the community and projects supported by the NLGMC are found in the Subject Files, where original folder titles were kept as close as possible.

Dates

  • 1970-2006

Creator

Language of Materials

Majority of collection in English, some materials in Spanish and Haitian Creole.

Conditions Governing Access:

The collection is unrestricted

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use:

Copyright restrictions may apply

Historical Note

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) was founded in New York City in 1936. Made up of union lawyers, civil libertarians and progressives, the group saw themselves as a response to the conservative American Bar Association that was vehemently anti-New Deal. The Massachusetts chapter (NLGMC) formed within weeks of the first meeting in New York. At the founding convention in Washington D.C. in 1937, the National group formally opened itself to all lawyers regardless of race, sex, or political beliefs and started campaigning for anti-lynching legislation, legal protections for collective bargaining, full scale social security, and federally funded neighborhood legal aid bureaus. They were the first US bar association to allow the admission of minorities to their ranks. As it grew so did World War II and the NLG quickly became involved in international law and post War legal developments such as the Nuremburg Trials.

Heavy involvement with labor and strong liberal leanings made NLG an early target for the Dies Committee, a precursor to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Despite narrowly escaping being named a subversive group, the Second Red Scare and red-baiting of key members caused membership to crumble and the Boston Chapter was essentially decimated.

Despite the blow to the movement, the NLG became an early proponent and supporter of the Civil Rights Movement and provided key legal support to many early victories. Throughout the country, it took the Vietnam War to revive the NLG. Law Student chapters were formed with support of their local chapters and groups worked to represent anti-war demonstrators and advise activists. Notably, they defended the Chicago 7, Huey Newton and the Attica defendants. NLGMC reformed in 1969 following these successes.

In the late 1960s, law students, legal workers and jailhouse lawyers were admitted to full membership and women were elected to positions of leaderships. The 1970s saw work in support of the Wounded Knee Occupation, Puerto Rican independentistas, the United Farmworkers Union and increased support for LGBT rights. The 1980s focused on attacks on Affirmative Action, a successful case against FBI surveillance of the NLG, increased support of legal services, abortion access, and an emphasis on struggles in Central America. In the 1990s the NLG worked on reproductive rights, immigration and street law clinics. In the 2000s, the PATRIOT Act, corporate globalization, the World Trade Organization, Palestine and political demonstrations such as the Occupy Movement have been the focus of the NLG. Most of the work of the Guild is done by committees, project and task forces, these include committees on Anti-racism, anti-sexism, international issues (including subcommittees on Africa, Cuba, Palestine, Haiti, Mideast, Philippines, and the United Nations), labor and unemployment, legal workers, and mass defense. Projects include work on environmental justice, Korean peace, national immigration, national police accountability, and prison law. Queer, Women, and People of Color caucuses direct many actions as well. These committees and subcommittees are usually national with regional coordinators, and NLGMC oversaw the National Immigration Project, Worker's Right's Board, National Committee to Combat Women's Oppression (at times), and the Unemployment Law Project, members of NLGMC also established the Progressive Legal Education Fund.

Chronology

  • December 1936 Twenty-five lawyers meet in New York to form NLG, soon after, the Massachusetts chapter formed
  • February 1937 Six hundred attorneys attend the founding convention of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) in Washington, D.C.
  • 1944 House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) cites NLG as a Communist-front organization, membership is heavily affected
  • 1945 Guild sends official observers to Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal
  • 1947 NLG convenes Conference on Federal Power to Protect Civil Rights to address epidemic of lynching in the South; Guild members represent the Hollywood Ten, called to testify in front of HUAC
  • 1959 Following national struggle to maintain membership and innocence, NLGMC among many other chapters essentially disappears
  • 1969 Massachusetts Chapter is re-started
  • 1980 National Convention is held in Boston
  • 1989 50th Anniversary of Guild celebrated
  • 1995 NLGMC organizes Committee for a Just Supreme Judicial Court and begins massive effort in protest of Charles Fried's Nomination for the Massachusetts SJC
  • 2009 NLGMC celebrates 40th Anniversary of revived NLGMC
December 1936
Twenty-five lawyers meet in New York to form NLG, soon after, the Massachusetts chapter formed
February 1937
Six hundred attorneys attend the founding convention of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) in Washington, D.C.
1944
House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) cites NLG as a Communist-front organization, membership is heavily affected
1945
Guild sends official observers to Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal
1947
NLG convenes Conference on Federal Power to Protect Civil Rights to address epidemic of lynching in the South; Guild members represent the Hollywood Ten, called to testify in front of HUAC
1959
Following national struggle to maintain membership and innocence, NLGMC among many other chapters essentially disappears
1969
Massachusetts Chapter is re-started
1980
National Convention is held in Boston
1989
50th Anniversary of Guild celebrated
1995
NLGMC organizes Committee for a Just Supreme Judicial Court and begins massive effort in protest of Charles Fried's Nomination for the Massachusetts SJC
2009
NLGMC celebrates 40th Anniversary of revived NLGMC

Extent

9.20 cubic feet (10 containers)

Overview

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) was founded in New York City in 1936 in response to the conservative American Bar Association. The Massachusetts chapter (NLGMC) formed soon after. At the founding convention in Washington D.C. in 1937, the National group formally opened itself to all lawyers regardless of race, sex, or political beliefs and started campaigning for anti-lynching legislation, legal protections for collective bargaining, full scale social security, and federally funded neighborhood legal aid bureaus. Targeted early on in the second red scare, red-baiting of key members caused membership to crumble and the Boston Chapter was essentially decimated. The NLGMC reformed in 1969, focusing efforts on issues of labor, reproductive rights, Central America and government repression. NLG and NLGMC are still active today.

Overview

The bulk of the collection are subject files that detail the Massachusetts Chapter's research, organizing and work around national and local issues, notably NLGMC's work in support of housing rights, various Central American countries in the 1980s, its protest of Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork's nominations to the Supreme Court, and Charles Fried's nomination to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Included are issues from 1970 to 2006 of the Chapter's newsletter, Mass Dissent. Also documented is the Chapter's support of Law School chapters at local universities. The collection also contains administrative records such as membership lists, dues, and financial records.

System of Arrangement:

Arranged in one alphabetical sequence.

Technical Access:

There are unlabeled files that are on 5¼ floppy disks the archives does not have equipment to support.

Physical Location

36/2-3

Appraisal, Destruction, and Scheduling Information:

Due to confidentiality restrictions, records relating to clients of the Referral Service and Unemployment Law Project have been removed.

Accruals:

Further accruals are possible

Related Archival Materials:

Records pertaining to the NLG Chapter at Northeastern University School of Law can be found in Student Activities Office records (A045), box 8

Bibliography

  • History, National Lawyers Guild, Massachusetts Chapter M197. Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections. Box 3, Folder 16.
Title
Finding aid for the National Lawyers Guild. Massachusetts Chapter, Inc. Records
Author
Finding aid prepared by Martha Pearson
Date
June 2014
Language of description
Description is in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections Repository

Contact:
92 Snell Library
Northeastern University
360 Huntington Avenue
Boston MA 02115 US